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Shoah (First Era)
Claude Lanzmann's monumental chronicle of the Holocaust has been acclaimed by many as the greatest documentary ever made.
Director: Claude Lanzmann
Claude Lanzmann's monumental oral history of the Holocaust has been acclaimed by many as the greatest documentary ever made. It ranked second in Sight and Sound's Greatest Documentaries poll, and 29th in the same magazine's Greatest Films of all time survey. The nine-hour film is divided into two Eras, chiefly focusing on events at the concentration camps in Chelmno, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka, as well as the uprising at the Warsaw ghetto.
Shoah has had a pervasive influence on both filmmaking and wider culture, and is now regarded as a historical record of note rather than a mere documentary account. Lanzmann spent eleven years making the film, which is almost exclusively composed of testimonies from survivors, juxtaposed with contemporary footage of the Holocaust sites. The filmmaker's landmark decision to forgo the use of archive footage becomes the film's distinguishing quality, with the absence of footage posited as a symbolic representation of the annihilation attempt directed at the Jewish people. This foregrounding of survivor testimonies as the key historical record became hugely influential, inspiring the establishment of Steven Spielberg's United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which now houses all 350 hours of Lanzmann's unedited rushes. Shoah is one of the towering achievements of cinema; one which demands to seen at least once by any keen student of history, or cinema.